Lupa is an author, artist, ecopsychologist, and naturalist in the Pacific Northwest. She creates ritual tools and other sacred art from hides and bones, and is a prolific author of pagan nonfiction books.
The Tarot of Bones is a tarot deck that is inspired by natural history, and combines Lupa’s art and writing skills with her knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, adding the traits and habits of animals to the symbolism of the tarot.
After reviewing Tarot of Bones last month, I was excited to catch up with Lupa and find out a bit more about this tarot deck and its companion book.
Raushanna: I know the natural world and the life and death of the creatures living within it have been a large focus for you for many years. Your creative connection to the natural world has evolved in wonderful ways. I admit to reading your Therioshamanism blog years ago, and was amazed at that time at the depth and breadth of your focus on the natural world, and your creativity within your field has blossomed since then. What circumstance made you first aware of this visceral connection between yourself and the natural world and its inhabitants?
Lupa: Honestly, it was early childhood when I first started exploring our yard and the various tiny beings in it. My love affair with nature has been a lifelong pursuit, and has taken many forms over the years. I discovered paganism in my teens, and the idea that there were other people who saw nature as sacred had me hooked from the start. Over the past two decades I’ve been a Wicca-flavored neopagan, a Chaos magician, and a neoshaman, though these days I refer to myself as a naturalist pagan. I don’t believe in supernatural things any more, and my path is firmly rooted in the physical world and ecology. I find my inspiration in the wonder and awe I feel at being privileged enough to be a part of this amazing universe for a few short years.
Raushanna: Tarot of Bones is a unique deck. What were you hoping to offer to those using your deck for personal exploration? What message or method were you trying to bring to a reader?
Lupa: Honestly, I wanted to help people get out of the very human-centered approach we have to the tarot. Most decks, including the Rider-Waite-Smith, are almost entirely made of human figures and pursuits. Any animals, plants and other beings are there primarily as symbols for human meanings. The Tarot of Bones, on the other hand, has no humans whatsoever. The Major Arcana and Court cards all have very specific animal species associated with them, and while these have meaning to us, they are based on the animals’ behavior, not the values we associate with them as “good” or “bad”. It is especially important for those who claim to follow nature-based pagan paths to get their heads out of the human sphere and away from human priorities, and to see ourselves as just one of many equal species on a complex, life-supporting planet. The Tarot of Bones is one gentle nudge in that direction.
Raushanna: As a follow-up to the previous question, I would like to share how your Tarot of Bones affected my own Tarot practice. These days, I tend to use the Tarot only for my own personal growth, and I only do readings through word-of-mouth requests. I usually work with the Tree of Life, astrology and elemental dignities when working with the Tarot and its messages to me. You have opened a new awareness within me of energy flows and entanglements occurring all around me that I knew existed, but never included in my divination interpretations before reading your companion book. Because of your deck and book, I’m looking around at my surroundings and my Tarot cards with a new awareness, an awareness that is based on a combination of pure intuition and of “listening” to the plants, animals, people, and non-physical entities around me. Thank you for that!
Lupa: That’s really cool—thank you for sharing your story! I hope you are able to continue deepening those relationships and understandings.
Raushanna: Your deck approaches the Tarot in a non-traditional way, particularly in the card images, and the companion book includes lots of useful information not usually found in a “LWB,” including your lists of inspirations for the assemblages. The deck and the companion book in many ways reveal your inner self to the public (you state, rightly so, in the Introduction that this is a very personal deck) perhaps in some ways more so than your art because you explain to us all in writing why you chose the items in the images of the cards. You created and self-published all this in a little over two years, not long at all! Did you ever feel overwhelmed during the process of creating this unique deck and the companion book? What kept you motivated to continue?
Lupa: Oh, so many times I asked myself “What have I gotten myself into?” It’s a hell of a lot of work, and I’m grateful that so many people hung in there with me, both in person and online. Being able to post the assemblages the deck was based on as I completed them helped me to stay connected with everyone, and motivated to keep going. Sometimes it seems absolutely unreal that I did all that, but I can look at the pieces hanging up in my home, and the boxes of decks and books, and think “Wow, I really did do all that!”
I have always been good at keeping myself on a task, even if things don’t always go according to schedule, and I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older. Now instead of one single project that I struggle to complete, I have a huge list of books and other projects I want to work on, and it’s just a matter of pacing myself as I work through each one.
Raushanna: You shared which card was created first, the card that led you into the process of creating and self-publishing the Tarot of Bones deck and its companion book. Which card image was the easiest to create? Which was the most challenging to get right?
Lupa: Honestly, they were all easy to some extent, because I was deeply in a creative flow for that year of 2015 when I actually made all the assemblages. The ones that were the most challenging were those that required more structural creativity; for example, trying to attach a full-sized bison skull to a small wooden door as its backboard took some manual labor that I wasn’t expecting. But in working with the spirits of the skulls and bones, and the tarot itself, I found it surprisingly easy to weave those threads of spirit and my own creativity together.
Raushanna: You have mentioned you worked with the Tarot before. You offer some detailed card meanings in the companion book. Has the process of creating the card image and/or writing the entry in the companion book that describes the meaning of the assemblage and the card itself caused you to re-write your own understanding of a particular card?
Lupa: Absolutely. My understanding of the tarot when I first started using it in the 90s was very much “by the book”. I revisited all that when I began the Tarot of Bones, combining traditional tarot meanings with more nature-based interpretations of the archetypes and concepts in the cards. So really I had to re-learn each card individually, especially as I hadn’t used a proper tarot deck in over a decade when I started the project. But that’s also why I wrote each card’s book entry as soon as I completed its assemblage, because the meaning was still fresh and raw in my mind.
Raushanna: Creating a Tarot deck is, I am sure, a transformative process. What unexpected and surprising result(s) did you experience as you worked with both the natural world and the symbolism attached to the Tarot?
Lupa: I think I was surprised at how much of myself was still in the deck as I created it. I wanted to allow nature to speak for itself as much as possible, but it’s necessarily biased because I am the person communicating those messages. We all have to experience the world through a human filter because each of us is working in a brain formed by millions of years of primate evolution, and a mind that is influenced by the society and culture each of us comes from. So there’s probably a lot that gets lost in the translation when I try to speak what I learned from nature, and that’s why it’s so important to experience nature firsthand, without an agenda, for yourself. Don’t go into the woods expecting to find fairies and spirits or to have a vision quest or other journey. Instead, just quiet your mind and open yourself to the land itself, without overlaying it with human meaning. It will tell you what’s most important.
Raushanna: What role, if any, does this deck play in your life now that it is completed? Do you have any other favorite decks? Are there other divination tools or systems that resonate for you?
Lupa: Well, it’s the deck I do daily one-card draws for the public with, as well as one of my main decks for professional readings. The only other one I use on a regular basis is the Ted Andrews Animal-Wise deck, which I got when it first came out in 1999 and which I’ve been using for totem readings ever since then. I, also, like bone-casting, and there’s a simple set I’m working on getting ready for release, hopefully this spring. Really, any divination system is just a tool to help me focus my thoughts and intuition, and since I created the Tarot of Bones it’s a pretty tight fit.
Raushanna: You have a recommended reading list in the Tarot of Bones companion book that is Tarot-focused, and you mentioned that, at least in part, through your creation process for this deck you have reinitiated your connection to Tarot as a divination tool. What processes and/or exercises do you recommend for a novice reader who is drawn to your deck?
Lupa: I like the idea of working with each card individually to really get to understand your relationship to it and understanding of it. That’s basically what I did as I created each assemblage. Study each card, both my version of it and other artists’; read the book, and other tarot books; study the animals that I profile in each of the cards, and the meanings and roles of each bone I use for the Minor Arcana suits; and create your own meaning and understanding of each card based on those things.
Raushanna: Your website, thegreenwolf.com, lists your own books; which of your book(s) would you recommend to a Tarot enthusiast who has become enamored with your natural world inspirations shared in the Tarot of Bones companion book, and who wishes to learn more about combining divination and nature?
Lupa: Well, right now the only other book I have specifically on divination is Skull Scrying: Animal Skulls in Divinatory Trance, which is a booklet on using a real animal skull for scrying. Beyond that, I recommend my book Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up: Connect With Totems in Your Ecosystem as a book for helping you deepen your connection with nature itself. I really feel that a lot of people are lacking in their nature literacy, even those who know a lot about tarot and other divination, and so boosting your experiences and knowledge of nature is important. And I don’t just mean things like “I know the four Wiccan elements”. I’m talking about knowing your bioregion in detail, where your watershed is, where your drinking water comes from, what sorts of fungi are in mycorrhizal relationships with the trees in your area, etc. Take away the supernatural and symbolic, and just get your nose in the dirt.
Raushanna: What is next for you? Any plans for an Oracle of Bones as a companion to the Tarot of Bones?
Lupa: Again, I have a bone-casting set I need to put the finishing details on. I’d also love to do a Lenormand of Bones someday, maybe as a limited run since it’s not as popular as tarot. But right now my big project is Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things. It’s a book about collecting hides, bones and other animal remains, including how-tos, advice, and other resources. I’m currently in the middle of the IndieGoGo to crowdfund printing and other costs, looking at a Summer 2018 release. That IndieGoGo can be backed at http://igg.me/at/vultureculture101.
I’d like to thank Lupa, very much, for this interview; it was nice to be able chat in more depth about her work!
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About the Author:
Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot reader and teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journey To Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.
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